Superhero movies are a bigger part of our culture than ever, but just when the world needed them most, they vanished. It's been a full year since a Marvel movie made a big splash in theaters, and Wonder Woman 1984 will be coming to an HBO Max near you in time for Christmas. But there's a more immediate way to fill your superhero movie needs.
Freaks: You're One of Us (not to be confused with the 2018 movie Emile Hirsch movie Freaks) is a 2020 German superhero movie about a lowly fry cook and mother who rediscovers her natural-born superpowers — powers she has suppressed since childhood with the help of daily medication. Exploring what happens to normal people who develop superpowers is a well-worn trope, spanning from X-Men to The Incredibles to The Boys, but Freaks: You're One of Us takes a decidedly different approach.
The film opens with a strange prologue before we're introduced to the protagonist — Wendy, a mom, wife, and fry cook who is just trying to keep her head above water financially. She asks for a promotion at her job but gets shot down for not showing enough potential. Disappointed, she takes the trash out and suddenly is confronted by a homeless man who cryptically tells her to stop taking the pills she's prescribed. "You're one of us," he says before demonstrating his powers by jumping off a bridge.
Needless to say, Wendy is quite shaken by this. Who does she turn to? Her trusty therapist Dr. Stern, of course. It's rare to see superheroes in mental health treatment, and it seems like a really vulnerable and intimate moment for Wendy. Unfortunately, it's not all it seems to be, as the therapist's response is to prescribe a higher dose of the medication that the homeless man warned about. Wendy ignores her, and trusting her gut, throws out her meds.
What results is the re-emergence of her power of super strength, a power she exhibited as a child that drove a wedge between her and her parents. Now, she uses her powers to fend off attackers and convince her boss to give her the promotion. But she's not alone. Her co-worker Elmar, a comics superfan, also has powers — and a huge crush on Wendy. Together with Marek (the homeless man with the power of invincibility), they seek to find answers to why they must keep their powers hidden.
The rest of the plot poses a number of interesting questions raised by the superhero genre. Are powers a blessing or a curse? Once you fixed your own problems, are you obligated to help the problems of others? The superpower aspect becomes an allegory for personal gifts and philanthropy, with a government conspiracy to add extra intrigue. If you're worried about the language barrier, don't be. Netflix's English dubbing is seamless enough that it becomes unnoticeable.
A significant downside to this movie is the implication that mental health medication is suppressing people's "superpowers." The "throwing away the medication" trope sends a potentially harmful message to those who rely on antidepressants and other mental health meds in order to keep their symptoms manageable. Making a therapist an evil supervillain isn't helping, either. It's worth keeping in mind if you're planning to watch with potentially impressionable viewers.
Still, Freaks: You're One of Us is a endlessly rewatchable entry into the greater superhero film canon, and, from the looks of the ending, the start of a franchise in its own right.
Freaks: You're One of Us is now streaming on Netflix.